Last week it was reported by BuzzFeed News that a home DNA testing company had stated it was giving access to the FBI to help solve violent crime. FamilyTreeDNA is one of the largest makers of home genealogy test kits. They stated that they had been quietly giving access of their database of 1 million DNA profiles, to the FBI.
Using public genealogy databases is nothing new to law enforcement agencies. It has been a valuable tool for the authorities, including the arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo in April 2018. He was arrested on suspicion of being the Golden Gate Killer, who committed crimes and murders in the 70s and 80s.
However, this is the first time that a private company has admitted publicly to allowing law enforcement to access their database.
FamilyTree DNA Statement
A spokesperson for the company stated that they had not signed any contract with the FBI. They have agreed to the use of its private lab to test DNA samples at the bureau’s request and upload the results to its database on a case-by-case basis.
The spokesperson went on to say that working with the FBI is a “very new development” and that at this point, they have cooperated on fewer than 10 cases.
In the case of the Golden Gate Killer, his DNA wasn’t found on the database, rather the DNA of his third and fourth cousins. Investigators then used this match to help them locate the cousins, and eventually DeAngelo himself.
Research published in October suggested that the US is on track to have a lot of DNA data. It will have so much, that a person won’t need to submit to a saliva sample to be identifiable via DNA.
FamilyTreeDNA changed its terms of service in December to allow law enforcement to use the database for identification of suspects. These include violent crimes, sexual assault and to identify victims remains.
However, the company says law enforcement will still need proper legal documents such as a subpoena or search warrant.
FamilyTreeDNA also stated that customers can opt out of having family relationships mapped out. This prevents their profiles being searched but also stops them from finding relatives.
While some customers will feel uneasy, many are apparently OK with the development. An informal survey conducted by genealogist Maurice Gleeson found 85% of respondents were comfortable with their DNA being used to catch serial killers and rapists.